Panic is starting to set in around FC Barcelona. After the last two lost seasons—which were epitomized by the death of Tito Vilanova and the death of Barcelona’s trademark style—Barcelona fans were excited about the hiring of Luis Enrique. A former Barca man himself, the hope was that Enrique would be able to restore Barcelona’s style and recent success. Their faith was well placed early on as a fast start saw the club get 22 points out of 24 and earn sole possession of first place.
However after a disastrous few weeks which saw the club lose two straight domestic games, including against their hated rival Real Madrid, Barcelona and their supporters are once again not sure where the team is headed. The club currently sits fourth in La Liga and has been less than spectacular in the Champion’s League.
Although most of the supporters’ angst is rightly directed at the club’s board of directors and the decisions they have made, questions are now being asked about Luis Enrique and his decisions. Perhaps, Barcelona got the wrong man for the job.
To start Enrique has made some vital mistakes and should not be immune from criticism. For example, Suarez probably shouldn’t have started the El Clasico nor should have Xavi. Further, Barca’s play of late has betrayed not just their brand but also their strengths. For the team to be successful, the ball must be played through the midfield, where possession, passing, and space can be exploited to give Messi, Neymar, and now Saurez goal scoring opportunities.
This approach has been lacking recently as far too often the midfield is bypassed or the team strategy is based on ensuring Messi wins the Golden Boot award. So yes, Enrique has not been perfect, but should supporters be turning on him already?
The problem Enrique is facing is a simple one. The shadow of Josep Guardiola still hangs over the Nou Camp. Due to Pep’s inconceivable success and the style of play his team perfected, every coach standing on the Barca touchline will be compared to Guardiola and Pep’s team. Not surprisingly every team and manager will pale in comparison.
Pep was the most successful coach in Barcelona history and responsible for ushering in a brand of football that changed the way the game was played and looked at (not to mention playing a large part in Spain becoming the best team in the world).
He is a legend and made Barcelona the envy of the world—something Barcelona fans reveled in and now certainty miss. In short, Barcelona is a victim of Pep and his success. It is not inhuman to desire the same success and style; however it is ridiculously to expect it from a different coach in different circumstances.
Beyond Pep being one of the best coaches—if not the best— in the world, there are a number of reasons why comparing Enrique to Pep is unfair.
Most importantly, when Guardiola took over at Barcelona he had a once in a lifetime generation of players just coming into their primes. These same players would not only break records with the club but also with the national team. Pep deserves all the credit for making them legends of the game, but he also arrived at almost the exact right time. In contrast, Enrique is inheriting these same players at their full potential or on the decline.
Further, these players have been playing football nonstop at the highest level since 2008. They have a ton of mileage on them and are clearly are not the same players they used to be. Despite the abilities of coaches, there is a large difference between getting a team that is full of players coming into their prime searching for an identity and respect and inheriting a team full of players who have won everything, played nonstop for six years, and have reached their peak or possibly have regressed.
More to that Pep, took the Barcelona system, adjusted it, added his intelligence, and created a style of play that was unique and helped the club win almost every title possible. Since then, the tactics of the team and the system’s strengths and weaknesses have been analyzed endlessly. Because of this, Barcelona has struggled over the past two years as teams now know how to approach and attack Barcelona.
Consequently, to be successful Enrique must change Barcelona’s style. However, in doing this, he is going against the style that his Barcelona legends have learned and played throughout their lives. Not to mention the style that have made them extremely successful and won them worldwide admiration.
Benching Xavi and or playing more direct is okay if the team is successful, but once they slip up ,it is too easy to place the blame on Enrique for not playing the midfield maestro or for trying to change the system that made Barcelona unbeatable in the past. In short, Enrique is in a tough spot. He can’t reproduce Pep success with the strategy Guardiola used, yet if he changes anything and isn’t successful, he will be criticized.
If Enrique is going to be successful in making Barcelona less predictable and as such, more dangerous, he is going to need more time. The change that Barcelona demands cannot happen overnight and Enrique’s team needs to be looked at like an evolving organism. Time and patience is not something the Barcelona supporters want to hear.
They have the best player in the world and a roster of superstars. They want success and titles now. The fact the team isn’t ready to compete and win at the highest level is not Enrique’s fault, it is the board of directors.
Enrique may not be the right man for that job but only time will tell. The last two years have been almost a complete waste for the club and letting Enrique go after one season would only add to that. Barcelona wanted a Barcelona man and they got one in Enrique. Now they need to trust themselves and their system.
It is time Barcelona stop waiting for the next Guardiola and the next Pep team. That era is never coming back. It was once a once in a lifetime team and there is never going to be another.
For better or for worse, Barcelona is now Luis Enrique’s team. It’s a different team with a different approach. It will never equal what Pep Guardiola accomplished but nothing ever will. All things change and Barcelona and its supporters need to accept that change and hope they put their faith in the right man.